If you like your YA peppy, romantic and with a good dose of teen angst, you are going to be sorely disappointed (and possibly traumatised) by October is the Coldest Month by Christoffer Carlsson, which we received for review from Scribe Publications. Certainly one of the grittiest novels categorised as YA that I’ve ever read, the book takes the reader into the dark underbelly of a town in remote Sweden. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Vega Gillberg is 16 years old when the police come knocking on the door looking for her older brother, Jakob.
Vega hasn’t heard from him in days, but she has to find him before the police do. Jakob was involved in a terrible crime. What no one knows is that Vega was there, too.
In the rural Swedish community where the Gillbergs live, life is tough, the people are even tougher, and old feuds never die. As Vega sets out to find her brother, she must survive a series of threatening encounters in a deadly landscape. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s dealing with the longing she feels for a boy that she has sworn to forget, and the mixed-up feelings she has for her brother’s best friend.
During a damp, raw week in October, the door to the adult world swings open, and Vega realises that once she has crossed the threshold there is no turning back.
Fittingly, given that the setting is a cold, outlying town in Sweden, the atmosphere of this book is bleak from the get-go and held me in an icy sense of fatalism throughout. Vega is a teen in a predicament. Her brother Jakob is missing, she knows why (although the reader isn’t privy to this information until partway through the book) and her stark existence seems like it’s about to become considerably more wintry should the police find Jakob before she does. The narrative style has a distinct sense of detachment throughout, which is typical of noir I suppose, although I don’t read much of it, which actually made it a bit easier for me to keep reading through the bits that made my stomach churn.
The book features sex, violence and general criminal activity, so if any of those things turn you off, I would recommend you place this one back on the shelf and find yourself something more comforting. Although this is a YA book in that the protagonist is a middle teen, the other characters, bar one – Vega’s love interest – are adults and careworn, to put it mildly, at that. It very much feels throughout the book that Vega is well and truly out of her depth, trying to protect her brother while the significant adults in her life are involved in everything from black market hustling to murder.
Towards the end, the story feels a bit like a traditional murder mystery in that Vega starts to unravel the truth and various characters admit to playing various parts in the act in which Jakob was caught up. I quite enjoyed this part of the story because things finally started making sense and the action ramped up in tandem with the pace of the story.
Overall, since this was quite a quick read, I found this quite absorbing and easy to fall into. Noir is certainly not a genre I read often, given that I don’t necessarily love grittiness for the sake of it, but this was a good example of the genre and not overwhelming, given the shortish length of the story. I would recommend this if you are a YA reader looking for something completely out there, or if you are a fan of edgy crime novels and need a quick fix.
Until next time,